Expanding the existing farm or starting a new one is in no way a cheap feat. It needs huge investment in various things like equipment, land, and labor. When it comes to funding opportunities many of them are aware of the capital funds, funding through investors or they use their resources. Not many farmers know that Non-Profits, State, Local and Federal agencies offer grants for agricultural purposes too. ‘Grants’ is one option that farmers usually tend to forget. Today, the government understands the importance of agriculture which is essential to maintain the food supply in the country. Therefore, they offer financial support in the form of grants to farmers as well as small farms. However, getting grants is the trickiest part and they are highly competitive. Moreover, many farmers do not have a clear picture of the options they have and the amount they need. So, they need to plan their finances precisely and then explore the options they have.
Agricultural Grants are the donation that farmers receive for a specific purpose or cause and the advantage of grants is that they do not have to pay back. Today, there is growing interest in farming and agriculture among people which in turn has led to enhanced interest in grants as well.
An Overview of the Grant Application Process
The organizations offering grants will first advertise about it. The notice will include info about the eligibility and qualification required to get the grants. Farmers must go through such available grants and find a suitable one before they start the process of applying for it. After submission of the application, the candidates are assessed by the grant committee taking into consideration the merits of every application. The time taken for this scanning process depends on the applications received for that particular grant. Once the right candidates are picked by the panel, they are notified about it. Finally, the farmers who have received the grants must start the required paperwork to get the funds legally.
Grants that Fuel Agriculture Innovation and Research
USDA(US Department of Agriculture) maintains the NIFA that offers an array of programs to encourage advancement in agricultural education and research. The programs offered by NIFA are diverse and caters to Research Programs in Speciality Crops, Food and Agriculture and Small Business Innovation.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation –
The foundation programs not only funds agricultural research but also focuses on increasing production in the farms through sustainable methods. The Agricultural Development Initiative put forth by the foundation is one of its ambitious projects and has committed about two billion dollars to this initiative.
The objective of the Agricultural Technology Adoption Institute or ATAI is to evaluate the programs on agtech that can be adopted by the farmers in African and South Asian countries. Grant-making competition is held every year that solicits research proposals and the selection process takes about 8 weeks wherein the proposals are assessed based on parameters such as board review and peer review scoring.
How to Get Agricultural Grants?
It is quite competitive to get grants these days. You need to follow a sequence of steps carefully that needs your time and effort.
Clear Purpose – The Most Crucial Point Before Anything Else
A comprehensive farming plan is essential to show that you are a potential candidate for the grant. Make your journey efficient and fruitful by clearly writing about the purpose of availing grants for your project. Emphasize on your primary goal and your plans to accomplish it. Determine the funding amount required keeping a little extra for emergencies. Explain these goals to grant evaluators clearly with specifics from the outset to impress them.
The business plan must include details about your marketing strategies and how you would make a profit. Whether you already have a functional farm or you are starting from the beginning, a detailed breakup of how you would be using the grant money must be included in the plan. Grants can be used to purchase new equipment, seeds, land or other related purposes. The proposal should also explain about income and expenditure every year. In short, it should include cash outflows and inflows. There is also a possibility that based on the kind of grant you want the business plan may have to be accordingly changed.
Search for the Right Grants
Once your business plan is on paper along with basic financial goals, the next task in hand is to find a specific grant that relates to your plan. If the purpose of the grants and your business plan is relatable then your proposal will be compelling. The organizations or companies offering grants look forward to endorsing those individuals who have similar opinions, views, and goals on matters that are crucial to each group. For example, you are already running a profitable farm with plenty of lands still available to do farming. However, you don’t have enough funds to hire laborers to expand your production. In that case, you must look for grants that focus on providing jobs to disadvantaged workers. First, decide on the kind of farm you want and how to operate it. During your research, you will come across grants that are directed towards certain farm types.
Types of Grant Opportunities
A range of specific criteria is taken into consideration when the government provides farm grants. For example – many of the farm grants from the government are only meant for ‘small farms’ that have annual gross receipts of $250,000. Most of the farmers usually apply to three kinds of grants as follows –
- State or Federal Grants – The grants offered here are mainly focused on improving health, nutrition and providing educational opportunities to students across the country. Example – ‘Team Nutrition’ and ‘Farm to School’
- Private and Commercial Grants – Many foundations provide grants through school programs to improve their communities. Example – ‘Home Depot’, ‘Lowes’ etc.
- Agricultural Initiatives – There are specific grants that concentrate on empowering farmers, agriculture and improve specific crop research, etc. Example – ‘Speciality Crop Grant’.
Besides these, there are Environmental quality incentive grants (for farmers who employ eco-friendly farming methods), New farmer grants (for those who want to start a new farm), Farm labor grants (must be used to hire, locate and pay employees working in the farm).
There are several websites (ex – USDA) that provide information on research agricultural grant opportunities. These sites provide detailed information on the requirements, eligibility and application procedures. You can also contact the Department of Agriculture in your state to know about the grants provided by the regional or local government.
Prepare a Financial Plan
Once you find the right grant to pursue you need to prepare a plan to see how the grant is going to help your budget. The Grant evaluators will examine the applications closely to check where and how their funding will be used by the farm. So, it is important to include every small detail in the budget proposal and account for every item whether it is seeds, utilities or backup parts required for the farm, which will establish your reliability and competence.
Writing a Great Grant Proposal
It is especially a daunting task for farmers who are not confident behind a keyboard. However, writing a grant proposal is not rocket science, as most of the grants follow a particular writing guideline that has to be sent along with the grant request. Just focus on the guidelines and follow them closely.
More or less this is the sequence followed while writing –
- INTRODUCTION – This section must give a clear picture of the entire project. Here, you need to describe the whole concept as precisely as possible and must be easily understood by even those who have no inkling whatsoever about your objectives.
- NEEDS/BACKGROUND – The context is to be explained in this paragraph. For example, explain the history and reasons why you are taking up this project. Also, emphasize points like how will this aid in improving your community, farming techniques, and various other things.
- OBJECTIVES – Here you need to describe your endgame. How you would use the grant money and its positive impact. The agricultural operations will continue for years, so explain the goals you would like to achieve in the next 1, 3, 5- and 10-years span of time.
- RESOURCES AND QUALIFICATIONS – What are the resources available with you to ensure the success of the project? Here, you should discuss the talent and equipment you have to show your capability and demonstrate your competence.
- CONCLUSION – In the concluding paragraph, you can reiterate the main ideas briefly and thank the company offering that particular grant.
Do not write the proposal in a fancy or flowery language. Keep it straightforward and plain. Avoid using extended metaphors as it shows desperateness. If you are not confident about writing the proposal then outsource it to a skilled professional who will do an excellent job. If you are the author, then once written make sure to edit and get reviewed by someone knowledgeable.
Apply for More Grants
Do not limit yourself and choose to apply only for a couple of grants. You may not be successful in the first round, so you must be ready to face disappointment and failure before finally hitting the jackpot. So, the bottom line is that more grants you apply, the chances of being awarded will also proportionally increase. Moreover, every grant you apply is like a practice, which will make you a pro in it.
Complete the Application
A lot of information is to be filled in the application. You will also need to emphasize the point of why would be the right candidate and how the grant money will be used to achieve your goals. The application must also include projected financial reports and a business plan. You will also not need to provide information on your work experience, educational background, and farming experience if any. The objective here is to convince the grantor that you are capable of using the funds that meet the mission of the grantor.
Submit the Application
Be proactive and don’t wait to submit your application until the last date. Complete the application and submit it much before the deadline. These days, many of the grants call for online submission of application. So, a huge number of individuals are submitting grant proposals on online portals, especially at the last moment. Due to this, there could be a technical glitch on the servers and in such cases, there are chances that your proposal might miss the deadline.
If you are awarded the grant, make sure to understand the further process and other requirements you must fulfill. You may have to sign a contract with the grantor and complete the reporting forms that will help the organization track your efforts in the operation.
Tips to Draft Grant Application
- Adequate Resources – Prepare a detailed budget. Take into account all the expenses involved in the operation and deliver exactly as per your grant proposal. You might overlook certain expenses or you might over-promise, so double-check the budget.
- Evaluation Plan – Explain to grantors the measures that you would take to assess the results of the project. Define the measures that would take like documentation, keeping records, etc to ensure the success of your project.
- Collaboration – Building coalitions and connecting with others is one way to support your proposal. You could research the work done in your community and think about ways to build on it.
Farmers who wish to improve their knowledge on how to better their business can attend a host of programs conducted by the US Department of Agriculture. Several organizations actively look for deserving candidates to give out the grant money, but every year many of the grants go unawarded. So, while applying for grants, it is important to define your project, goals, and timeline to achieve it clearly in your grant application to make a strong case. Once you receive the grants spend wisely and document the progress you have made in the project, which will open up new opportunities.